HC Deb 13 November 1934 vol 293 cc1855-63

8.0 p.m.

The SOLICITOR - GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)

I beg to move, in page 21, line 9, to leave out from the beginning to "any" in line 10.

This Amendment must be read in reference to the next Amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friend—in page 21, line 13, to leave out from "any" to "calculated" in line 14, and to insert: such matter descriptive of the drawing or intended drawing of the lottery, or otherwise relating to the lottery, as is. When the Clause was discussed in Committee, this point arose in connection with Sub-section (1, c, ii) of the Clause as it stood in the unamended Bill. It contained the words: any matter descriptive of the drawing or intended drawing of the lottery, and I ventured to point out that "matters descriptive" might in fact constitute an advertisement, in the sense that it was calculated to induce people to put their money into the lottery. It was, however, suggested that the words were too wide, and might include news matter inserted for no such purpose and having no such result. Therefore, we propose to lift these words from paragraph (ii) into paragraph (iii), where they will he qualified by the words: Calculated to act as an inducement to persons to participate in that lottery or in other lotteries, and paragraph (ii) will simply relate to the list of winners, which my right hon. Friend admitted, in conceding the principle, was something which ought to be prohibited. This will have one further result, namely, that any proceedings in respect of matters descriptive…calculated to act as an inducement… can only be taken with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as they will now be in the paragraph proceedings under which require the consent of the Director under Sub-section (3) of the Clause.


I am very much obliged to the Solicitor-General and the Home Secretary. I consider that the point which I ventured to make has been fully met by these Amendments.

8.4 p.m.


This is a matter to which I drew attention during the Committee stage, and I should be grateful if the Solicitor-General would explain its significance, because I am not quite clear what it will be. If, for example, a newspaper announces that yesterday there was a draw in Dublin for the Irish Sweepstake, and goes on to say that the number of tickets sold was 3,000,000 and the prizes amount to so much—just a bare statement without anything else in the nature of incitement—would the Solicitor-General regard that as matter calculated to act as an inducement to persons to participate? In other words, could he give some indication of what is in his mind as to how much newspapers will be permitted to give?

8.5 p.m.


I am quite prepared to agree that the Amendments which the Solicitor-General proposes go a long way to meet the objections of the newspapers, which were voiced by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) during the Committee stage; but it would be idle to pretend that the newspapers are at all satisfied with the proposed curtailment of their freedom that is embodied in this Clause. The Newspaper Society, which represents some 1,000 morning, evening and weekly newspapers in this country, does not wish to encourage lotteries, but, although the practical effects of this Clause will not be a very great inconvenience to the newspapers, it feels seriously perturbed at the growing tendency of Parliament to restrict the freedom of the Press in reporting a mere fact about some act which is perfectly legal in itself. The Press do not want licence; they only want liberty. They quite realise that they must not publish anything which is seditious, or anything which is blasphemous, and that where the safety of the State is in question they must submit to censorship; but they object very strongly to being told that they must not print some fact about an act which is quite legal, such as that the Home Secretary himself holds a ticket in a lottery. He has told us that that is perfectly legal, and we see no reason why we should not be able to report a legal act.

The argument, we are told, is that if we publish that information we shall be encouraging other people to do likewise. I do not think that that is a very sound argument. Next we may find the right hon. Gentleman coming down to the House and saying, "We are losing a lot of by-elections; let us prohibit the papers from publishing the results of by-elections," in the hope that other constituencies will not be prepared to do what Swindon and North Lambeth have already done. This tendency to restrict the freedom of the Press in reporting facts has not worked out well in the past. The most recent example was in the case of divorce proceedings, where newspapers are prohibited from reporting the speeches of counsel and the evidence given in court. Such a staunch supporter of that Bill, when it was passed, as the senior Member for Oxford -University (Lord H. Cecil), is telling us that now he is sorry that the Bill was ever passed; while judges of the High Court are telling us that the large number of divorce cases is largely due to the lack of reports in the newspapers. We may find the same thing with lotteries. If the facts are not published, and certain gentlemen know that the fact of their having a mild flutter is to be kept from their constituents and will not be published in the local paper, the Home Secretary, may find that he is actually encouraging the sale of lottery tickets.

With the practical effect of this Clause as it will be amended we are not seriously concerned, except on one point, and that is that, as the Clause is drafted, the supplies of foreign newspapers coming into this country will not be protected, and if any foreign newspaper comes into this country the publisher will be liable, to prosecution if it contains any reference to a lottery. We do not want to make any loophole for the flooding of this country with foreign newspapers containing news which British newspapers cannot publish, but we desire to ask the Home Secretary, if the later Amendment standing in my name is called, whether he will not provide that the ordinary commercial supplies of foreign newspapers coming into this country shall still be available to the people of this country, even though they may contain some reference to a lottery.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: in page 21, line 13, leave out from "any" to "calculated," in line 14, and insert: such matter descriptive of the drawing or intended drawing of the lottery, or otherwise relating to the lottery, as is."—[Sir J. Gilmour.]

8.12 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 22, line 5, at the end, to insert: (4) In any proceedings instituted under paragraph (c) of sub-section (1) of this section, in respect of any matter published in a newspaper, it shall be a defence to prove that the newspaper is normally printed outside Great Britain, and that of the edition containing such matter not more than the normal daily number published and distributed in Great Britain have been so published and distributed. The purpose of this Amendment is to protect the normal commercial supplies of foreign newspapers coming into this country. The Home Secretary, in his reply during the Committee stage, said he did not anticipate that what was being done would interfere with ordinary commercial distribution. The Amendment simply seeks to make it quite clear and definite that, if no more than the ordinary commercial supply comes into the country, the publisher will not be liable to prosecution. I think the Amendment will achieve its purpose, and is perfectly workable. We have no desire whatever to give a loophole to foreign newspapers to flood this country with news of lotteries, but we ask that the public shall not he prohibited from getting their normal supplies of foreign newspapers simply because they may contain some reference to a lottery.

8.13 p.m.


The Government, in dealing with this problem, have gone a considerable way, as my hon. Friend admitted when he spoke just now, to meet what we conceive to be the legitimate anxiety of those connected with the newspaper industry, but this Amendment, of course, cuts right into the question of what justification there would be for totally prohibiting the publication of this information in the British Press and at the same time leaving the door open for the entry into this country of large quantities of foreign newspapers publishing the same matter. It is, of course, the fact that there will be a curtailment, but I think it is essential if we are to have the powers which we desire in order to deal with the problem. I may say I understand that already in Northern Ireland the papers take steps for dealing with this problem, and find no great difficulty about it. In the circumstances, I am sorry I cannot accept the Amendment.

8.14 p.m.


Frankly, the statement of the Home Secretary disappoints me. It was I who raised this point, and it was because I raised it that he promised reconsideration, but the reconsideration has not been given in respect of the point that I raised at the end, but in respect of the earlier point. There were two points. The one was the prohibition of the publication in newspapers of facts, and that has been partly dealt with. The second point, which obviously caused some consternation when I raised it, was the one which led the Home Secretary to promise some examination of the matter. It will be remembered that the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) said that there was a very large circulation in Liverpool of newspapers coming from Northern Ireland. These circulate among the enormous Irish population of Liverpool, which is both Green and Orange, as those who are familiar with that city will know.

The hon. Member wanted to know what was going to happen, and whether these newspapers were going to be stopped when they were unloaded from the boat at the landing stage, or whether the newsagents in Liverpool were to be prosecuted if they delivered them. What is going to happen to a man who is a subscriber to an Irish newspaper which is regularly sent him by post? Is it to be stopped in the post? There are stalls at the London railway termini where the Paris "Daily Mail" is available. Are those copies going to be prohibited? The Home Secretary has not given the slighest consideration to the point. The fact that he has made a concession in respect of an entirely different point is no answer to the point that I raised the other night. If we are not careful, we are going to have this extraordinary situation, that people in this country may be deprived on certain days of the opportunity of reading any foreign newspaper whatever merely on the ground that it contains matter which is illegal under this Clause. I must ask the Home Secretary to give a more adequate reply than he has given on this point.

8.16 p.m.


It must not be understood, from the fact that we have agreed to give facilities for the passing of these Amendments, that we are going to allow an absurd Bill to go on to the Statute Book. I get an Irish newspaper every day. When there is an Irish Sweepstake, are the particulars going to be blotted out, or am I not to receive it on that day? This seems to me a very reasonable Amendment, and it is also desired by the newspapers, that where people are in the habit of having a French, Irish or German newspaper they should continue to have it, but that the market should not be flooded on the day of the sweep with thousands of additional copies? I cannot understand why the Home Secretary does not accept it, and, if he does not, will he kindly state what are his plans in the matter? Does he intend to stop these papers coming in or not? Are the bookstalls at Victoria and elsewhere to be prevented from selling the "Temps," the "Figaro" and the "Irish Times" on certain days of the year, because there is a sweepstake in Dublin or a lottery in Paris? It is a most important point, and we have had no information from the Government. The hon. Member speaks, I understand, on behalf of the Newspaper Society and, unless the Home Secretary can show good reason for not accepting the Amendment, the House should insist upon its insertion.

8.18 p.m.


I promised to look into the problem, and I have looked into it most carefully with the advice of those who deal with these problems. The Amendment is in our view unworkable. f, in order to attain a certain object, we prohibit newspapers at home from printing certain information, obviously it would be grossly unfair to allow foreign newspapers to come into the country and to do behind the backs of the home papers exactly what we are prohibiting the home papers from doing. It is essential that that should be dealt with. As to the case that is put to me that no one will be able to get a foreign newspaper, frankly, that is not what happens in practice. Already there are restrictions under which certain English newspapers going into Northern Ireland, for instance, have to leave out information which is prohibited. The same thing applies with regard to the "Times" in America in certain circumstances. In any case, it is clearly essential that, if this step for the protection of the public against what Parliament considers undesirable in our home papers is to be made effective, it must be extended to foreign newspapers.


Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why the Amendment is unworkable? Also, is he not aware that the restrictions on the "Times" in America have been withdrawn?


Is the right hon. Gentleman going to take steps to stop the newspapers that arrive daily at the house of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir W. Davison) and anyone else in a similar position'? Is he going to stop papers which come daily by post as the result of a regular subscription?


It will depend, no doubt, on the circumstances. If they come through an agent, undoubtedly the agent will be liable.


If they come by post—


They might in certain circumstances come in that form, but clearly it is right that it should Lot be thought that foreign newspapers can gain access to this country to defeat the object of this Measure. In regard to the question of the hon. Member opposite, I understand that recently there has been some alteration with regard to the position of the "Times" in America.


Why is the Amendment unworkable?


We have looked at it carefully to see whether it could be worked. In our view, you would have to take all sorts of very complicated steps to ascertain the actual facts and circumstances, and we do not think it is practicable.

Amendment negatived.

8.23 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 22, line 6, to leave out Sub-section (4).

This Sub-section was discussed in Committee, and it was suggested that it contravened the general principle of justice that a man should be deemed to be innocent until he was proved guilty. I suggested in Committee that this Section did not contravene this principle. It is important not only that we should observe the spirit of that principle but that there should be no appearance of impinging on it our legislation. I admit that the arguments that I put before the Committee were not accepted. We have taken into consideration the representations that were put forward and we propose to leave out the Sub-section.


I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the Amendment. It is certainly a matter to which many people took grave exception.

Amendment agreed to.